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What Can Be Learned

With direct-to-consumer tests, people can learn about their risk of developing certain conditions without going through a physician or other medical professional, US News and World Report writes.

Companies like 23andMe analyze customers' spit samples and provide carrier risk, disease risk, and wellness reports. The US Food and Drug Administration recently gave 23andMe the OK to market its health risk tests, and it offers ones gauging Parkinson's, late-onset Alzheimer's, and celiac disease risk, among others.

As US News notes, these tests only estimate risk and are not diagnostic tests. In approving 23andMe's health risk tests, FDA noted that "[i]n addition to the presence of certain genetic variants, there are many factors that contribute to the development of a health condition, including environmental and lifestyle factors."

The National Human Genome Research Institute's Lawrence Brody tells the paper that most geneticists don't want to prevent consumers from getting such tests, though he notes that they do want to be sure consumers know what their results mean. Muin Khoury from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Office of Public Health Genomics adds that while there no or only low levels of harm associated with such testing, he says there's also little evidence of benefit.

"As a consumer, if I'm a healthy person with no overt disease, I wouldn't waste my time," Khoury says. "If you are sick and have a condition, go to your provider, who will take a family history and depending on what that is, may or may not direct you to genetic counseling."